The Gospel that we are presented with today is hard to deal with (Matthew 15:21-28). We expect that when Jesus is presented with a situation of desperate need that he answer with compassion and mercy. Instead today, when he flees to the pagan northern region of Tyre and Sidon and meets a local woman in need, he addresses her first with silence, then a third-person rebuttal based on her ethnicity and then an outright and disgusting insult, comparing her to a house-dog. Even if you make allowances for Jesus being tired, or choosing the description of a puppy rather than a wild dog, the insult is still shocking. The fact that the liturgy today pairs this reading with the prophecy from Isaiah that longs for the day when even foreigners who ‘attach themselves to the Lord to serve him and to love his name and be his servants’ will also be brought to the holy mountain and their offerings will then be acceptable. It is perhaps even more shocking to us who have lived through too many genocides and episodes of racial cleansing and violence and hatred that is based on race, skin colour, religion and sexual identity. The continuing poor way that we treat refugees and asylum seekers in our country is also surely motivated by such factors. So how can we make sense of what Jesus says and does today? Is there a way that we can even begin to understand what may have motivated such action on his part?
Recorded at St Paul’s, 10am (8’22”)
Sunday 20 in Year A.